The Chilli Trial: my experiments

In January I happily agreed to join the vegetablism chilli trail and @5olly sent me my 5 varieties in plastic bags: Piqullo, Guindilla, Hungarian Yellow Wax, NuMex Centennial and Chiltepin. Here’s my report on progress, accompanied by my usual out-of-focus pictures:

Seeds for Chilli Trail 2013

I duly sowed 2 of each on 17th February, keen to see them germinate and grow. I was a little concerned that I’d not be able to germinate the Chiltepin as I wasn’t entirely sure how I could imitate the digestive system of a bird: This variety is one of the hardest to germinate as it usually passes through a bird’s digestive system 1st.

My preparations were elaborate; I don’t have a heated propagator, but I know chilli seeds need heat to make heat so had sat the tray on top of several hotwater bottles for a couple of days to warm the compost before sowing. After sowing, I kept the hotwater bottles heated for 10 days, morning and evening, the tray wrapped in an old towel and bubblewrap – never have seeds been so lovingly nurtured! My attempt at substituting hotwater bottles for a heated propagator, so successful with lettuce seed and leeks in January, failed miserably with chilli seeds – seems they need constant temperatures of 21oC until germination – obviously not hot enough for them – or dud seed?

seeds in damp kitchen roll

I think perhaps I may have germinated some of the seeds, but if so, they’re not doing very much, possibly sulking in the cold. I’ve since retrieved the single seeds I kept back ‘in case’ and am going to try another experiment: soaking and chitting them. I’ve wrapped them in kitchen roll and popped them back into their plastic bags, dampened them with warm water and have left them on top of the radiator. I ‘mislaid’ 2 of the seeds as I returned them to their bags, so only 3 in my experiment, now.

 Are these chilli seedlings: Chiltipin & NuMex possibly?
Chiltipin chilli seedling?

NuMex Centennial chilli?

2012: growing food in difficult circumstances

I’ve been leafing through my allotment diary, reflecting on how difficult growing food has been, thinking about the key issues of the year, some about battles with weather, others more overtly political:

In January we experimented with potato recipes, mainly pastry because Denis has a gluten allergy, & we discovered a delicious potato pastry using non-wheat flour. We also had an excellent supply of main crop potatoes from 2011 stored in our shed for use during winter. So, plenty of tubers to experiment with.

February was raw with cold, along with much discussion over access to seed & to land for growing.

This month tested the cold hardiness of our over wintering crops. Snow & frost rendered the soil hard & impenetrable. Yet, the kales were remarkable; I used to leave them to get very large because that’s what I thought you did with them, but learnt the hard way during winter 2010 that large leaves also disintegrate into smelly mush when there’s a freeze. Now I crop the plants as soon as they produce large enough leaves to eat, plant them closer together, so have more for cropping more regularly. I added pictures of the various varieties, with commentary, to my post on kales, useful now I’m planning the varieties to sow in 2013.

February also marks the Celtic festival of Imbolc, the time chosen for Brighton’s Seedy Sunday, an opportunity to share local knowledge about the plants & foods we grow & eat. This gathering was marked by anger & concern over a threatened allotment rent rise that broke apart the superficially apolitical world of allotment gardening. A petition circulated, with much lobbying & planning in the background. The failure of the Allotment Federation to do anything to either inform or protect allotment holders from what was judged a predatory raid by the council on allotment rents as easy revenue, was also seen as a double betrayal by the 1st Green council in England. Continue reading

Fanged Parsnips: thinking about evidence

I’ve been having a conversation on Twitter with John Harrison (@allotmentorguk) about the truth or otherwise about manure causing forked parsnips. He posted advice a couple of days ago reminding gardeners that carrots & parsnips don’t like soil that has been manured the previously autumn as it causes the roots to fork & split. I disagreed with him, at least about parsnips, as I had a vague memory of reading somewhere that research had indicated that this wasnt actually true. John tweeted back that he’d be interested in the link, but could I find it? Nothing! I’d lost the information & felt a bit silly.

However, I’ve been sleuthing & have come up with some interesting results. Firstly, its evident that information gets repeated without much checking back as to its veracity. Every search I did came up with a list of sources, each merely repeating the ‘fact’ of manure causing forked parsnips, but no evidence.  I know from our allotment that carrots do fork in manured soil, but our parsnips tend to fork if sown in stony soil – & our chalky soil is full of flinty stones. I also remembered the origin of my questioning of the link between manured soil & forked parsnips; it was Joy Larkcom, in her book,  ‘Grow your own Vegetables’, who said: There was a long-held belief that growing on recently manured ground led to fanged roots, but experiments have demonstrated that this is not necessarily true (Larkcom, 2002; 298). Unfortunately, she gives no further information. Continue reading